A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Procurement Edition

I have devoted several days this month to the procurement process.  Sounds fun already, doesn’t it?

Procure to Pay (P2P) is part of Business Services here at ACC.  P2P consists of Procurement (which does exactly what you think it does), P-card Administration, the Small Business Development Program, and Accounts Payable. 

When the college is looking at a significant investment of resources, the procurement process is particularly rigorous.  All purchasing at ACC follows rules and processes, but procurement on a larger scale includes more voices, more steps, more training, and higher-level approvals (up to and including the Board of Trustees).  The process that I have been involved in included an RFP (Request for Proposals) that was advertised and open for a certain time period, allowing interested vendors to submit proposals (which can run to hundreds of pages).  Proposals are reviewed or scored for adherence to the solicitation’s specifics.  Based on that review and scoring, vendors are then invited to present their wares in person.

Here’s a current list of publicly advertised solicitations.  You’ll see that some involve significantly more information and specificity than others, but the general idea is that vendors respond to the solicitation and the responses are rated or assessed.  Top-rated vendors are then invited to make formal presentations on their product.  Those presentations follow a pre-determined script to ensure that each vendor is responding to the same set of questions or scenarios and helping ACC employees who are making the procurement recommendation understand whether any vendor’s product will meet our needs.  To participate in this procurement process, you must complete procurement training and sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Because I’ve signed an NDA, I can’t tell you much more.  Just let me say that from 8:00 to 5:00 on three separate days this month I’ve listened to vendors respond to – or not – our scenarios, and answer – or not – our specific questions.  It’s been both interesting and tedious, worthwhile and tiring.  But it’s all part of the life of an AVP.

Picture attribution (Alaska Purchase):  Edouard de Stoeckl and William H. Seward [Public domain]

Student Supports

Do you know what support services ACC offers to our students?  There may be more than you realize.  Here’s a link to an overview of available supports, resources, and services for our students.

If any of your students appear to be experiencing academic challenges, you can refer them to academic coaches or the learning labs or accessibility services.  If any of your students seem to be struggling financially, we have the money management office or the emergency fund or work study options.  If any of your students appear to be dealing with “life” issues, we have a food pantry and counseling services and child care options.

Seventy-eight percent of our students are part-time students.  For most, that means they work and typically also have family responsibilities.  A flat tire can torpedo their efforts to get to class because they can’t afford to get it fixed.  A child care arrangement that falls through can mean they can’t get their paper finished by the deadline.  A boss who calls them into work unexpectedly means they’ve lost study time for an exam.

Life happens to all of us.  As we begin a new academic year focusing on the life-altering impact of educational opportunity, remember as well that we offer more than an education. We offer help with the rest that life can throw out.  I encourage you to ensure that your students know what additional tools and resources are available to them.  In this way, too, knowledge can be power.


Chaos!  Or, more exactly, ACCHaoS!

The latest episode of Academic Transfer in Focus is about an outreach program in our Physics Department that they call ACCHaoS.  ACCHaoS is apparently a physics joke in addition to standing for “hands-on science”.  It’s a traveling show that our Physics faculty takes to various elementary schools, libraries, and other gathering spaces. The goal is to get schoolchildren to see the wonders – and the fun – of science.

The Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering also hosts star parties periodically – and there’s one planned for September 6 at the Round Rock Campus, if you’re interested.

Such good work – helping all of us learn a bit more about science, and helping school children learn that science can be fun.

Hat tip to our dedicated Physics faculty for this wonderful outreach to our community.  To learn more, watch this.


Picture credit:  Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain]

Don’t Forget to Show Love

We are launching ourselves into a new semester and a new year.  We are about to invest ourselves in the learning of a new crop of students.  What we are making an investment in matters – to us, to our college, to our community.  Our students come to us from all sorts of backgrounds, bringing an array of experiences, perspectives, talents and interests. They are the reason you do what you do, and they are the reason I do what I do.

We too often get transfixed (or irritated) by data.  But data is really nothing more than thousands upon thousands of individual stories.  Your students this semester will have stories of flat tires, and child care issues, and unexpected shifts at work.  But they will also have stories of hope and strength and laughter.  As you get to know your students this semester, learn their stories.  Learn what each student has to offer, and help them succeed in their own academic growth and trajectory.  In other words, give them a little love.

This video is sweet and touching.  It reminds us that we can all make a difference, whether we’re four years old or a seasoned and salty veteran professor.  So in the words of the young superhero in the video:  “Don’t forget to show love.”

Happy new (academic) year!

An AVP’s Aspen Journey: Chapter Two

In late July I spent four and a half days with my fellow Aspen Fellows (fellow Fellows for short) at Stanford University.  For those who don’t know, the Aspen Presidential Fellowship is a leadership development program for community college leaders who want to support transformational change in their current or future roles.  It is a joint effort of the Aspen Institute and Stanford University’s Educational Leadership Initiative.

Let me just say that my fellow Fellows are a remarkable bunch.  They are uniformly bright and brilliant and energetic and thoughtful and passionate about the work of community colleges.  Our work changes the trajectory of our students’ lives, and my fellow Fellows believe in thinking creatively and strategically about how we can best do that work.  It was a pleasure to spend 12 hours a day with these folks, and I look forward to our November convening in Virginia.

At the end of our time in Stanford, we were asked to think about the key “big ideas” that would stay with us.  That is a tall order, because there were ideas aplenty.  We heard from Tom Erlich, former dean of Stanford Law School, former president of Indiana University, author, educator, and very nice man.  We heard from Baba Shiv in the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an expert in neuroeconomics (yes, neuroeconomics).  We heard from J. D. Schramm in the Graduate School of Business with deep expertise in communication.  We heard from Karen Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream and former community college president.  In fact, we heard from a variety of current and former community college presidents, and each had immense wisdom to impart.

It was rich and thought-provoking (and exhausting).  Here are a few of the ideas that I’m pondering.

  • “Completion is not enough.”
  • “Love the one [student].”
  • “Encourage bold vision.”
  • “Understanding is better than knowledge.”
  • “We must build trust in the classroom, in part by decentering the self.”
  • “Combine joy and purpose – that lets you do your best work.”
  • “‘Presidency’ is a verb.”
  • “Teaching and learning:  Center it. Celebrate it.”
  • “Create institutions that are equitable by design.  The architecture of the institution must have equity embedded in it.”
  • “Focus on best practitioners rather than best practices.”

I could list a dozen more things that I’m pondering, but I’ll stop there.  I invite you to ponder the phrase or idea that catches your attention.  And I’ll let you know how my Aspen journey continues in the next few weeks.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – The July Edition

The month of July has flown by, filled with meetings (of course!), deadlines (of course!), evaluations (it’s PEP time), professional development, and a brief vacation.

The meetings covered such topics as Testing Center usage, transfer forums in 2019-2020, the THECB Star Award application, our summer Department Chair Institutes, our participation in the Explore Law program in partnership with UT and Huston-Tillotson, our Fall 2019 early alert pilot in Distance Education, full-time faculty hiring, and our OER work with OpenStax.

The deadlines included submitting our Star Award application for our OER work to date (check!), submitting an equity progress report for academic programs (check!), finalizing the Testing Center work group report (check!), and finishing PEP (Performance Excellence Program) evaluations for the folks that I supervise (no check yet – but they’re due August 2, so send me some good evaluative vibes!).

The professional development was an intensive, exhilarating, thought-provoking, inspiring, exhausting week at Stanford University for the Aspen Fellowship, and the vacation was three days in Denver that included museums, good food, and a Dodgers/Rockies baseball game.

Since today is the last day of the month, I’ll tell you what I’ve done today.  My flight home from Denver yesterday evening was cancelled, and the rebooked flight was delayed – so I got home about 2:00 AM today (without my luggage).  When I woke up a few hours later, I had no comb to drag across my head – literally!  (Although I did almost fall out of bed because I was so tired.  Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.)  First order of business:  run out and get some basic toiletries before heading to work.  (Figured my colleagues would appreciate it if I brushed my teeth!)

Once at work, I had a 9:30 call with a faculty member about the Fall early alert pilot, and an 11:30 meeting with my boss about some upcoming responsibilities in support of the Board of Trustees (specifically, their regular August meeting and their later-in-August retreat).  In between I caught up (a bit) on email and visited with folks – catching up, checking in, reconnecting.  And before you know it, I was headed downstairs to the Board Room for the start of our third Department Chair Institute at 1:00 (tomorrow at San Gabriel, Friday at South Austin) – saying hello, getting slide decks up and running, and kicking-off the event.

It is now 5:45 and I’m tapped out – but tomorrow is the start of a new month, with new meetings and new deadlines and new opportunities.  So as we say farewell to the old month and greetings to the new month, keep your fingers crossed for me on the PEPs.  And celebrate the new!

An AVP’s Aspen Journey: Chapter One

I leave on Sunday for Palo Alto to attend the first convening of this year’s Aspen Presidential Fellows.  We are a cohort of 40 chosen from around the country, and we’re gathering for a week on the Stanford campus to start learning more about community college leadership and what it takes to be a transformational community college president.

We are the fourth cohort to get the opportunity to connect with community college leaders, be mentored by a current or former community college president, and build our skill set around leading transformational change in our respective (or future) community colleges.  The full title of the program is the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence.  Whew!  The program is sponsored by the Aspen Institute along with the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative.  It’s a year-long fellowship with three in-person convenings, structured mentoring, lots (and lots) of reading and homework, and a capstone project.

I expect this will be an interesting year of growth, self-reflection, and learning, so I thought I’d share the journey here.  Do I want to be a community college president some day?  Maybe.  Do I want to be the best community college leader I can, no matter my position?  Absolutely.  This year will be stimulating and challenging and exhilarating and tiring – so say those I know who have been Aspen Fellows before me.  But I think it will be consequential for my leadership growth and development.

Part of our first homework assignment (beyond a boatload of reading) was to interview students and ask them three general questions:

  1. What are your goals and reasons for attending college?
  2. How and why did you choose ACC?
  3. How do you define success as a college student?  What does being successful during (and after) college mean to you?

We were asked to interview three to five students.  I wound up interviewing seven:

  • a student who emigrated from Kazakhstan with a bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering who  is pursuing an associate degree in programming.  He eventually wants to return home to start a programming school for students with disabilities.
  • a traditional student who started at ACC straight from high school and has changed his major from business administration to criminal justice because he wants to be a police officer and eventually an FBI agent.
  • a mother of five (from 8 years old to college age) who is finally going to college for herself and, while feeling intimidated and unsure, is nonetheless trying to figure out what to study – something in the creative realm like art or design or creative writing.
  • a student who has known she wanted to be a nurse since she was three or four years old.  She hopes to eventually pursue a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice).
  • an engineering major who has a bachelor’s in political science but who is making a career change with a plan to go to A&M to study biological and agricultural engineering.  She hopes to work in support of effective environmental and energy policy (e.g., renewable energy).
  • a nontraditional student who has taken a meandering path but who is focused on getting her associate degree as a sign of accomplishment and transferring to complete a bachelor’s degree in mass communication.
  • a Navy veteran who wants to become a doctor and return to the Navy in that capacity.

What a group of students, eh?  So how do they define success?  Beautifully, of course.

  • “To be capable of pursuing your goals persistently.  If you don’t stop every time you face a difficulty, you are successful.”
  • “I think it’s about you trying, even if you do fail, or not, but you still tried so you’re successful because you went out there and tried something. . . Success is in the effort.”
  • “You have goals, you are able to meet each one of them.  It takes practice, you learn from the past, you help build a strong foundation.”
  • “It means good grades, but also actually understanding, internalizing material . . . Trying to actually learn things.”
  • “Managing your time wisely. . . Narrow down what’s important in your life to be successful in college. . . Knowing when to tell your friends that you can’t go out.”
  • “To achieve that end goal [of a career] with the least amount of disruption to your well-being as possible.”
  • “I think you really need to want to learn.  Just be humble enough to . . . learn what your professor has to offer you.  Commit to the process.  There’s a level of submission [to the professor and his/her knowledge and experience]. . .  The idea of submission to achieve my goals is key.”

So, I’m embarking on a journey of submission to the process that will require me to manage my time wisely, learn from the past, internalize what I learn, and pursue my goals persistently.

Wish me luck!

The Power of Two (or More)

This article from Politico may be about our presidential primary season, but it resonates with ACC’s own work on diversity and equity in our hiring processes.

What’s the difference between having one diverse candidate amongst those interviewed and two or more? Quite a lot, it turns out.  From the article:  “A single diverse candidate faces an enormous headwind—and a tiny chance of being picked for the job in the end. In contrast, when interviewers take the time to interview multiple diverse candidates in a fair and competitive process, the dynamic shifts norms and expectations, and creates a situation in which a diverse candidate is much more likely to end up winning the position.”

That assertion is based on a study in Harvard Business Review (Johnson, Hekman, & Chan, 2016) that showed that a single diverse finalist has zero statistical chance of being hired, while two (or more) diverse finalists have an exponentially greater chance of being hired.  It turns out that having more than one diverse finalist changes the status quo to the benefit of the goal of diversity in hiring.

Food for thought.

When we hire full-time faculty, we are proposing marriage (so to speak).  That is, we are making a commitment that will last twenty or thirty years or more.  We want to do our best to ensure that all our faculty are committed to our mission and to helping our student population reach their goals.  Among other things, that means we’re being more explicit about our search for applicants who understand and are committed to equity in teaching and learning.  It also means we want to diversify the faculty ranks so that our students see themselves in our faculty.  If you participated in the full-time faculty hiring process this year, or you might participate in it next year, please reflect on the reasons why the college asks hiring committee members to think about the benefits for our students, our community, and our mission of a diverse faculty committed to equitable student outcomes.  And please remember “the power of two”.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the “one pager” edition

I’ve spent my day writing “one pagers”.   What is a one pager, you ask?  I’ll tell you.

We report on our work in a variety of ways to a variety of entities.  And one of those ways is an annual institutional effectiveness report that goes to the Board of Trustees.  It’s submitted by the president and is a comprehensive look (well – as comprehensive as we can make it) at what we’ve done in the year.  The 2017-2018 report was almost 200 pages long.

The report is organized around the college’s strategic plan goals (i.e., equity and access, persistence and engagement, completion and transition to employment and/or transfer, and effective and efficient operations and infrastructure).  Within each of those goals we write one page (usually) on various initiatives and programs.  These “one pagers” have a prescribed format (Background, Current Activities [2018-2019], and Next Steps [2019-2020]).

Writing a one pager may require data gathering, historical research, making some phone calls, and asking others for help.  Because brevity is not my strong suit, my one pagers are sometimes two pagers (and occasionally two-and-half pagers).  This week – and all day today – I’ve edited, or updated, or crafted from scratch, or finalized one pagers on the following topics.

  • Adult Education
  • Eight-week programs and innovative scheduling
  • Block-scheduled Institutes
  • Corequisites in INRW (Integrated Reading and Writing)
  • Equity and Diversity in Faculty Hiring
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the IEP (Intensive English Program)
  • Events in Academic Programs
  • Faculty Mentoring of Students
  • Fields of Study
  • Instructional Programs Quality and Reorganization
  • New Student Welcome Center
  • Saving Students Money on Textbooks
  • Texas A&M/Chevron Engineering Academy

Of that list, three were written largely by others so my role was editing and formatting.  But the other ten required mostly “from scratch” writing.  And while I like to write, I’m running out of steam.

So as we move to the end of another month, I’ll tell you that we are doing a whole lot of good work here at ACC, and we are capturing it in dozens of one pagers written by dedicated folks who believe in the work.  Celebrate with me, and enjoy the closing of the month of June.

Small Ball

In baseball, there’s a strategy known as “small ball”.  It’s the idea of deliberate movement from base to base, essentially.  Get a runner on first (maybe with a walk), bunt the runner over to second, then get the runner home with a single to right field.  Instead of depending on monster hitters and big innings and lots of home runs, the idea is to score through an intentional, step by step approach to moving runners around the bases.  Stealing bases, bunting, working the pitcher for a walk – they’re about to become dinosaurs in modern baseball, but they have their place and they can be an effective strategy for winning.

This article in Inside Higher Ed talks about “small teaching” and it’s very much like small ball – intentionality around small changes or step-by-step progress.  I missed James Lang’s Small Teaching:  Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning when it first came out – although it’s now in my Amazon shopping cart.  But now there’s a book out by Flower Darby called Small Teaching Online, extending the principles to the online teaching environment (which I where I still occasionally teach).

The basic idea, as we learn from the article in Inside Higher Ed (or from this series of articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education),  is that we can use the science of learning to make small, intentional, incremental changes in our teaching that will have a big impact on student learning.  I don’t know about you, but I could do a better job of keeping up with the science of learning.  In the meantime, I can learn more about Small Teaching, where I find suggestions like making a small change to how a class starts (or ends) that can bear significant fruit.  I’ve read about Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) for twenty years – such things as the minute paper at the end of class, for instance (answering these two questions:  “What was the more important thing you learned today? What questions do you still have?”).  Small teaching is right in line with those CATs from twenty years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from Professor Lang:

“For example, we have excellent evidence that students remember material better when they test themselves and try to retrieve information from their own minds. And yet most students still study by reviewing their notes over and over again — probably the least-effective study strategy they can employ. The final five minutes of class can provide a quick opportunity to let students know how best to prepare for their next assessment, based on the science of learning and on your experience as an expert learner.

Before the midterm, I asked students to take two minutes and write down for me how they studied for the test. When I compared what they said with the exam scores, the evidence couldn’t have been clearer: Low-performing students used phrases like “reviewed my notes” and “reread the poems”; the students who aced the exam said things like “wrote an outline,” “rewrote my notes,” “organized a timeline,” “tested myself,” and “created flashcards.” I made a slide with a side-by-side comparison of the two columns, and spent five minutes of class showing students the differences. They’ll see that slide again in the last five minutes of class just before the next exam.

Imagine what a difference we could make if we all took five minutes — even just a few times during the semester — to offer students the opportunity to reflect on their learning habits. We could inform their choices with some simple research, and inspire them to make a change. One five-minute session in one course might not mean much, but dozens of such sessions across a student’s college education would add up.”

Just like small ball can be successful, small changes to our teaching can help students learn more successfully.  I encourage you to investigate – and remember the power of the bunt for moving runners along!

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay